National Collegiate Honors Council


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From: The Demonstrable Value of Honors Education: New Research Evidence, edited by Andrew J. Cognard-Black, Jerry Herron, and Patricia J. Smith. (Lincoln, NE: NCHC, 2019). Copyright 2019 by National Collegiate Honors Councils.


Over 1,500 U.S. universities and colleges have honors programs or honors colleges to provide extra support for their most prepared students (National Collegiate Honors Council 2018; Scott and Smith 2016). Honors programs typically provide additional financial support, faculty mentors, smaller class sizes, and other benefits compared to what institutions can typically offer all of their students. Students involved in an honors program usually earn higher GPAs compared to highly motivated students not in an honors program (Pritchard and Wilson 2003) and are more likely to stay in college and graduate within four years (Cosgrove 2004).

The additional success of honors students compared to nonhonors students is often attributed to their experiences in the honors program itself. But it could be argued that honors students are more successful simply because they arrived at a university with better preparation or higher socioeconomic status. Of course, no explanation can be definitive without a randomized control trial, which would be difficult if not impossible in real-world situations, but converging evidence from multiple sources can provide a reasonable answer (Bottoms and McCloud 2018). Considerable research to date on the impact of honors education lacks the appropriate controls to account for alternative explanations for the differences often observed in the success of honors versus nonhonors students. The present study tests the impact of an honors college on the successes of a diverse, urban student sample while statistically accounting for pre-matriculation background factors and student characteristics, thereby ruling out many key alternative explanations for the association between honors education and college student success.